Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
When I first picked up the book, My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, it was the title that called out to me. I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery, but in this instance, it seemed like the mystery was already solved–the sister did it. The title presented another mystery to me, though. What would the narrator have to say about her murderous sister? As a sister myself, I had to know more, and just like that, I was hooked.
The novel starts right off with a bang as our narrator, a nurse name Korede, obsessively cleans up a murder. If you have checked out the title, you already know that the one who has committed the crime is not Korede herself, but rather her sister. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that her sister Ayoola has killed, though she claims it has all been in self-defense. When Ayoola, an aboundingly beautiful woman, begins to show interest in one of the doctors that Korede works with—a doctor that Korede has had her own eyes on for months—Korede’s professional and family lives collide, and she must balance her loyalty to her sister and her desire for male companionship.
Much of the novel explores the bounds of family bonds. How far will we go to protect those we love? The answer is much more complicated than you might think. Influences such as family history, circumstances, and emotions could all have a significant effect on what we choose to do for our loved ones. Braithwaite fuses all of these influences and more in the novel, and the result is a read that draws you in. The author also discusses themes of retribution. At what point should someone, a murderer for example, be punished for their crimes? The easy answer is immediately; we wouldn’t want that murderer to kill again, right? Braithwaite argues that the answer is, once again, more complicated than that.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Nigerian writer, which is interesting because there are not very many popular Nigerian writers. Only a few come to mind: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, known for her powerfully feminist short stories; Chinua Achebe, known for Things Fall Apart; and Chigozie Obioma, known for a short novel called The Fishermen. All of these authors write from a Nigerian perspective and give insight to what life might be like in Nigeria, depending on when the particular piece of writing is set.
Braithwaite is a master of suspense, revealing just enough information to keep you engaged. She manipulates your mind and forces you to read “just one more page.” Each chapter starts out with some kind of vague statement that snags your attention and draws the answers out long enough that you are still interested, but not too long that you give up and stop reading.
The author also does a fantastic job of characterizing her main characters. Not only does she illustrate who they are, but she also describes why her characters are the way they are by revealing key information about their pasts.
If there was one thing I had to suggest for improvement on this book, it would be predictability. I found myself guessing—accurately—some of the major plot points. The ending, however, still threw me for a loop, so this tip is definitely nit-picky.
I would definitely recommend this book. In fact, I have already recommended it to some of my students because I just could not put it down! It was even a great book to use as an example for the elements of plot because the climax has the reader on the edge of their seat. If you enjoy a book that constantly has new information to keep you sucked in, this one is for you.
In short, this Nigerian piece is quite a thrill to read, commenting on the bounds of familiar protection. I’ll be thinking about these characters for at least a week after reading this one.